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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

With a gentleness which was new to Sibyl


said Mr. Loftus, with a gentleness which was new to Sibyl, and he was always gentle. 'They will die presently, as first love dies. But nevertheless it is a beautiful gift while it lasts, and we must not grieve because, like the primroses, it cannot last in flower _for ever_. I have lived through so many feelings, Sibyl, I have seen so many die which seemed immortal, that I have long since ceased to count on the permanence of any.'

He leant towards her, and for the first time he took her slender hands and kissed them. It was as if he were readjusting his position towards her, reassuring her of his trust and confidence and sympathy, supporting her in some great trouble. She leaned her forehead against his shoulder, and a sense of comfort came across her desolation, as if she were leaning her faint soul against his soul. He put his arm round her, and drew her closer to him.

'My darling!' he said, and there was an emotion in his voice which she had never heard in it before. Her hat had slipped off, and he passed his hand very tenderly over her hair.

Sibyl's over-strained nerves relaxed. Some of the craving of her heart and its long yearning was stilled by the touch of his hand. Ah! he loved her, after all--certainly he loved her. Doll was right, after all. How foolish she had been to cry all night! Certainly he loved her.

She could not speak.

She could not weep. She could only lean against him. She had never known him like this before. It was this that she had always wanted, all her life, long before she had ever met him.

'You have been so good to me,' he went on, 'from the first day of our married life when I was ill. Do you remember? And I know that your dear love and kindness will not fail me while I live. I thank and bless you for all you have given me, your whole spring of primroses; and now that spring is passing, as it must, Sibyl, as it must, not by your fault, take comfort, and when other feelings come into your heart, as they have come in, do not reproach yourself, do not cut me to the heart by grieving, but remember that I understand, and that my love and honour and gratitude can never change towards you, and that I too was young once: as young as--Doll, and there is no need for you and him to be so miserable. It will only be--like a--long engagement.'

As the drift of his words gradually became clear to her, Sibyl insensibly shrank back as from an abyss before her feet. But in another moment she took in their whole meaning. She pushed him from her with sudden violence, and stood before him, her hands clenched, her eyes blazing, her slender figure shaking with passion.

'How dare you!' she stammered. 'How dare you insult me?'

He put out his hand feebly, and she struck it down.

'What is Doll to me?' she went on, 'to me, _your wife_! Oh, will you never, never understand that I love you, that I worship you, that I care for nothing in the whole world but you, and that I cried all night because you married me out of pity?' Sibyl wrung her hands. 'Oh! how dared you do it, how dared you swear to love me before God, if you did not, if you could not? I am too miserable. I cannot bear it--I cannot bear it!'

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